VANCOUVER - British Columbia's chief coroner has announced the formation of a specialized drug-death investigation team as part of the province's effort to fight an opioid overdose crisis.
Lisa Lapointe has said most of the fatal overdoses are the result of people taking fentanyl with another drug, mostly cocaine, and many don't know they're ingesting the deadly opioid.
"Along with our health, community and law enforcement partners, the BC Coroners Service has been deeply concerned about the rising number of illicit drug deaths in our province," Lapointe said in a statement Tuesday.
Coroners service spokeswoman Barb McLintock said a specialized team will investigate drug deaths in greater depth.
She said funding will come from the $10-million fund announced by Premier Christy Clark in September for various projects including a centre for research addiction.
McLintock said the first drug-death investigation is expected to begin next month and eventually all drug deaths that have already been investigated in 2016 will be more thoroughly analyzed.
The coroners service said there were 555 illicit drug overdose deaths in the province from January to September 2016 compared with 355 deaths during the same period last year.
People aged 19 to 29 and 30 to 39 have accounted for the largest percentage of deaths in the first nine months of this year, and 80 per cent of those killed were men, the service said.
Lapointe also announced Tuesday that a public inquest will be held into the death of 20-year-old Coquitlam resident Brandon Jansen.
He died on March 7 while he was a resident at a substance-abuse treatment centre in Powell River.
"A public inquest will provide another avenue to explore some of the issues we have found arising in these deaths and, it is hoped, for a well-informed jury to make practical and useful recommendations to help prevent similar deaths in the future," Lapointe said.
Jennifer Woodside, whose 21-year son Dylan Bassler died in April 2014 after taking one oxycodone pill laced with fentanyl, said he was a gifted studio arts student at Capilano University and would have contributed to society.
Woodside, a member of Moms United and Mandated to Saving the Lives of Drug Users, or MomsDU, said the stigma of addiction often prevents people from seeking help but parents are also struggling to get their kids into treatment because there aren't enough beds.
"We have to be more proactive than reactive and we have not become reactive to this," she said.
NDP health critic Sue Hammell said there were 118 treatment beds in the province in 2012-13 for people up to age 19, but they steadily declined to the current 89 beds.
"It was not, and has not been, a priority to fund addiction beds for youth," she said. "I can surmise that this is either a cost-saving venture or it's not deemed as a priority. But we are in a crisis and have been for a couple of years."
Health Minister Terry Lake was not available for comment.